At first glance Dragonball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 feels like a wafer-thin beat-em-up that only exists to cash in on the popularity of the Japanese cartoon it's based on. Indeed, that's what I thought as I button-mashed my way through my first three battles with some of the game's 161 (that's right, 161) crazy-looking cell-shaded Manga-style characters. But then I popped into the training mode and discovered that there's more to it than simply charging up your Ki and hammering A on the Wii Remote. In fact, I would go as far to say that Dragonball Z's debut on Nintendo's motion-sensing console can be, well, rock hard.
That's something of a difficult admission, dear readers. You see, I consider myself to be quite the fighting game specialist. Up there on my high horse I bust out combos on Street Fighter 2, Tekken, Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter like you've never seen. And then along comes what looks like a bare bones fighting game for kids and it brings me back down to earth with a crash the devs can hear all the way across the sea in Tokyo.
Part of this is to do with the fact that it's a very different compared with the type of fighting games that get all the press. Instead of a side-on 2D or 3D view, you've got an over the shoulder view point. And some of my rubbishness is the result of all the flying about, too. The very fast flying about. So let's just put it down to me not being used to that kind of thing, having pumped thousands of hours into Street Fighter 2 on Xbox LIVE, shall we?
We both know that's just an excuse. Dragonball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is a hard fighting game (you can drop the difficulty down to easy if you want, or up to hard if you're masochistic) because things happen quickly, there's loads of commands and you need split second timing for advanced play. For example, one of the new moves Japanese developer Spike has implemented into the third game is a teleport - A and B together on the Wii Remote - which is an effective dodge. Only problem is, pulling it off is really hard because the timing is so tight. I ended up hammering both buttons together like a noob because I couldn't nail the timing. For shame.
Then there's the awkwardness of executing the attacks that involve moving the Wii Remote, shaking the Nunchuck, or pressing the inappropriately placed 1 and 2 buttons. You can Dragon Dash by swinging the Nunchuck, which sounds easy, but gets knackering after a while. You can Knock back your opponent by holding A and moving the Wii Remote up and down or left and right. Again, too much effort. And moving your thumb down to the numbered buttons (used for switching characters during a team battle and transforming) at the bottom of the Wii Remote stretches your fingers too far. Phew.
You can play the game with the Classic Controller, or even a GameCube controller, which certainly makes the game easier and more like a traditional fighting game. But most Wii owners won't have either, so we'll continue explaining how it works with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Executing combos is a simple enough affair - mashing A, your basic melee attack, is enough to get into double numbers. Each character's projectile attack, or Ki Blast, can combo by spamming the B button. But spectacular combos quickly become par for the course when you notice that you not only have to reduce your opponent's life meter once, but a tiring three times. Button mashing isn't an option - matches last too long for your fingers to take it.
So, in a round about way, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 forces you to learn how to play properly. You're forced to learn Ki attacks (left on the d-pad and the special move's command), Blast attacks (up on the control pad and move the Wii Remote), and each character's Ultimate Blast, only possible when you've filled your Ki bar completely, (triggered by pressing down on the d-pad and following the controller movements on screen). Crazy stuff. In short, dig a little and you'll uncover a fighting game that might be light on the skill requirement, but is certainly as complicated and command heavy as many of its more illustrious cousins in its own unique way.
And it's also rammed full of game modes, so many in fact that the game can feel bewildering at first. It's probably best to start off with Dragon History, especially if you're a Dragonball Z fan, where you'll get to play the fights from the TV series. This mode has changed somewhat compared with previous iterations of the series - it's shorter and only shows two fighters on screen at once, so dialogue from other characters can be heard as if coming from somewhere off screen. Speaking of the dialogue, it's broken in parts, with long pauses between sentences and even mid sentence. Fans will be particularly disappointed with this, but for the rest of us it's not a massive problem.
Then you've got more traditional fighting game modes - Ultimate Battle (survival), Dragon World Tour (quest), Dual (versus), Dragon Net Battle (online), Evolution Z (character customisation), Ultimate Training (training) and Character Reference, which is a detailed database of all things Dragonball Z. It all amounts to a disc positively bursting with stuff to do.
While it's great that online play is included - an impressive feat for a Wii fighting game - the games we've played have suffered somewhat from slowdown and lag. You've got a number of options, including ranking matches, as well as the ability to play with friends, as you'd expect. It's not unplayable by any means, but it's certainly disappointing.
Ultimately, Dragonball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 will be of most interest to those who love the TV series. It's not for everyone, that's for sure. Is it worth forking out £35 if you've got the last game? Probably not, since Spike hasn't added much to the mix, and, some would say, has nerfed the Dragon History mode. But if you've never played a Dragonball Z game before and like the show, or don't watch the show and just fancy a decent fighting game on the Wii (and don't mind continuous J-Rock riffs and Saturday afternoon cartoon dialogue), Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is a good choice. The problems playing online are a major let down, and, for us, prevent the game from getting an eight. Ignore that, and, somewhat surprisingly, you've got one of the Wii's most fun fighting games.